Archive | October, 2009

Fourth Storm In A Month Lashes The Philippines

30 Oct

By J. P. Anderson:

The fourth storm to hit the Philippines in a month has lashed the eastern province of Quezon, bringing heavy rain and winds to the region.

Forecasters said Typhoon Mirinae was following the same route as September’s storm, Ketsana, which dumped the heaviest rains in 40 years on Manila.

Mirinae is expected to hit the capital later on Saturday morning local time.

Many parts of the country are still reeling after the worst storm-triggered flooding in decades.

The typhoon was travelling at speeds of up to 93mph (150km/h).

Flood risk

Civil defence spokesman Ernesto Torres said officials were preparing for the worst.

"Considering our land is already saturated with water, it may cause flooding in some areas. It is hard to tell if there will be floods, but we are preparing for the worst," he said.

The capital’s 12 million residents and others who live in the path of the typhoon were told to prepare supplies to last 72 hours.

Officials closed schools and grounded ferries and trucks loaded with relief supplies were sent to Northern provinces in the storm’s path.

Thousands were reported to be stranded on the main island, unable to return to their home provinces to visit their dead as traditional on All Saints’ Day in the mainly Catholic country.

More than 900 people have died in the multiple storms, including Typhoon Parma, which have battered the Philippines over the last month.

More than 100,000 people remain in government-run evacuation centres and some communities in Manila remain flooded with residents using makeshift rafts to move around.

Burma: (Myanmar): Journalists and Activists Arrested In New Security Crackdown: COPY

30 Oct

Edited By J. P. Anderson:

By Aung Hla Tun Aung Hla Tun – Fri Oct 30, 9:27 am ET

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar authorities have arrested up to 50 people including journalists, political activists and students in a security crackdown this month in its biggest city, a Thailand-based human rights group said on Friday.

The arrests include 10 journalists along with a number of opponents to Myanmar’s ruling military junta, said Bo Kyi, co-founder of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a group of former detainees who track those behind bars.

"It’s not clear why they were arrested. Their families were not given an explanation," said Bo Kyi.

Witnesses said the arrests coincide with a tightening of security across Yangon in recent days with a larger police presence on streets, more security check-points, police car-searches and tougher security at Buddhist monasteries.

Two years ago, the junta suspected monks of coordinating the biggest pro-democracy protests in 20 years, leading to a crackdown in which at least 31 people were killed.

At least seven people including two journalists were arrested by police and military intelligence officials at their homes around midnight on Tuesday, family and friends told Reuters.

They included Thant Zin Soe, an editor of local private weekly magazine, and Paing Soe Oo, a freelance reporter. The other five are university students in Yangon.

The seven are members of "Linlat Kyei," a group which helps survivors of last year’s Cyclone Nargis, which killed nearly 140,000 people.

"We just don’t know why they were arrested and their present whereabouts," said one source in Yangon, who asked not to be identified in fear of reprisals.

New York-based press watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Paing Soe Oo’s arrest and called for his immediate release, saying his arrest undermined the former Burma’s claims of moving toward democracy.

"Burma’s military government claims to be moving toward democracy, yet it continues to routinely arrest and detain journalists," Shawn Crispin, the group’s senior Southeast Asia representative, said in a statement.

The crackdown comes ahead of a U.S. fact-finding delegation expected soon in Myanmar as part of an exploratory dialogue with the junta following the Obama administration’s announcement in September it would pursue deeper engagement with Myanmar’s military rulers to try to spur democratic reform.

New elections are scheduled for next year under the final stages of a seven-step "roadmap to democracy" drawn up by the junta. A new constitution guaranteeing the army control of the country was passed in a heavily criticized referendum last year.

(Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

UK: Parents ‘Pass On Bad Drinking Habits’ To Their Children: Charity

30 Oct

By J. P. Anderson:

Children learn bad drinking habits from their parents and advertisements, research suggests.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that family members showing young people to drink responsibly was the most effective method curbing binge drinking.

Parents have more influence than peers and can offset the effects of advertising, report author Professor Richard Velleman said.

The report found that schemes should be enforced in schools to discourage abuse of alcohol, and the Government should make changes to make it harder for young people to buy drink.

Professor Velleman said: "Parents need to understand that their behaviour has a strong influence over their children’s drinking habits.

"There needs to be a coherent and co-ordinated plan to reduce the amount of heavy binge drinking in a significant minority of young people in the UK."

UK: British Government’s Chief Drug Adviser Sacked Over Comments About ‘Safety’ Of Illicit Drugs

30 Oct

By J. P. Anderson:

The Government’s chief drug adviser has been sacked after claiming cannabis, ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes, sources said.

Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, sparked outrage earlier this week after he criticised the decision to reclassify cannabis as a Class B drug.

It is understood Home Secretary Alan Johnson asked him to consider his position in the wake of the comments, saying he had "no confidence" in him.

In a lecture and briefing paper for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College, London, Prof Nutt attacked what he called the "artificial" separation of alcohol and tobacco from other, illegal, drugs.

He accused former home secretary Jacqui Smith, who reclassified cannabis, of "distorting and devaluing" scientific research.

Prof Nutt said smoking cannabis created only a "relatively small risk" of psychotic illness. And he claimed advocates of moving ecstasy into class B from class A had "won the intellectual argument".

All drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, should be ranked by a "harm" index, he said, with alcohol coming fifth behind cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, and methadone. Tobacco should rank ninth, ahead of cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, he said.

He also repeated his claim that the risks of taking ecstasy are no worse than riding a horse.

Ms Smith’s decision to reclassify cannabis as a "precautionary step" sent mixed messages and undermined public faith in Government science, he said.

He added: "I think we have to accept young people like to experiment – with drugs and other potentially harmful activities – and what we should be doing in all of this is to protect them from harm at this stage of their lives. We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you are probably wrong."

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UPDATE: Information:

The government’s chief drug adviser Thursday criticised the current classification of substances, claiming that alcohol and tobacco were both more harmful than ecstasy, LSD and cannabis.

Chairman of the government’s advisory committee on the misuse of drugs, Professor David Nutt, also slammed the government for reclassifying cannabis from class C to class B, saying it "distorted" and "devalued" research evidence.

The professor, who clashed with then home secretary Jacqui Smith over the 2008 reclassification, said that the separation of tobacco and alcohol from illegal drugs was artificial and a new classification system was needed.

"Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth," said Nutt in the paper from the centre for crime and justice studies at King’s College.

"Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14 and 18 respectively," the paper added.

The government downgraded cannabis to a class C drug in 2004 but moved it back last year after fears that new, stronger strains of the "skunk" form of the drug were flooding the market.

"We have to accept young people like to experiment and what we should be doing in all of this is to protect them from harm at this stage of their lives," Nutt said.

"We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you are probably wrong," he added.

A Home Office official defended the government’s policy, telling the BBC: "The government is clear: we are determined to crack down on all illegal substances and minimise their harm to health and society as a whole."

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UPDATE:

The UK’s chief drugs adviser has been sacked by Home Secretary Alan Johnson, after criticising government policies.

Professor David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, criticised the decision to reclassify cannabis to Class B from C.

He accused ministers of devaluing and distorting evidence and said drugs classification was being politicised.

The home secretary said he had "lost confidence" in his advice and asked him to step down.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) is the UK’s official drugs advisory body.

Following his sacking, Prof Nutt told the BBC he stood by his claim that cannabis should not be a Class B drug, based on its effects.

He described his sacking as a "serious challenge to the value of science in relation to the government".

And he denied that he had been trying to undermine the government’s policies on drugs.

"I am disappointed because, to be honest, all I was trying to do was help. I wasn’t challenging the government," said the former adviser.

"We can help them. We can give them very good advice, and it would be much simpler if they took that advice rather than getting tangled up in other sorts of messages which frankly really do confuse the public."

Prof Nutt said he was not prepared to "mislead" the public about the effects of drugs in order to convey a moral "message" on the government’s behalf.

Earlier this week Prof Nutt used a lecture at King’s College, London, to attack what he called the "artificial" separation of alcohol and tobacco from illegal drugs.

The professor said smoking cannabis created only a "relatively small risk" of psychotic illness.

Public concern over the links between high-strength cannabis, known as skunk, and mental illness led the government to reclassify cannabis to Class C last year.

In the past, Prof Nutt has also claimed that taking ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse.

In a letter, the home secretary wrote: "I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as chair of the ACMD.

"I would therefore ask you to step down from the Council with immediate effect."

In his reply, Prof Nutt said he was "disappointed" by the sentiments expressed by Mr Johnson.

He added: "Whilst I accept that there is a distinction between scientific advice and government policy there is clearly a degree of overlap.

"If scientists are not allowed to engage in the debate at this interface then you devalue their contribution to policy making and undermine a major source of carefully considered and evidence-based advice."

‘Disgraceful’ decision

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said the sacking had been "an inevitable decision" after Prof Nutt’s "latest ill-judged contribution to the debate".

But Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said the decision to sack the adviser had been "disgraceful".

"What is the point of having independent scientific advice if as soon as you get some advice that you don’t like, you sack the person who has given it to you?" he said.

Mr Huhne said if the government did not want to take expert scientific advice, it might as well have "a committee of tabloid newspaper editors to advise on drugs policy".

Cannabis reclassification

Similarly, Claudia Rubin from Release – a national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law – said the expert should not have been penalised.

"It’s a real shame and a real indictment of the government’s refusal to take any proper advice on this subject," she said.

In 2004, then Home Secretary David Blunkett had approved the reclassification of cannabis from Class B – which it had been since 1971 – to Class C.

But in 2008, Jacqui Smith announced that she would reverse the 2004 decision and put cannabis back into category B.

The decision was taken despite official advisers recommending against the change.

Ministers said they wanted to make the move as a precautionary measure.

British Columbia: Eight Human Foot Washes Up On Canada’s Coast

30 Oct

By J. P. Anderson:

Another human foot has been discovered washed up on Canada’s Pacific coast – the eighth one in the past 26 months.

The remains were found inside a size 8.5 running shoe by two men who were walking along a beach south of Vancouver.

No other body parts were discovered, police said.

Forensic tests are being carried out to try to match the foot to missing persons.

It is the eighth discovery of its kind along the coast of British Columbia since August 2007.

One foot has been identified as belonging to a man who went missing after becoming depressed.

But DNA testing has not yet determined the identities of the others.

Investigators say there has been no evidence to date to support foul play in relation to these discoveries.

They believe all the remains separated from the body through a "natural process".

Scientists say the feet could have drifted anywhere from dozens to thousands of miles because human body parts can remain intact in water for years when protected by clothing.

And they have suggested the feet did not sink but floated to shore because they were encased in buoyant shoes.

The Philippines: Kidnapped Priest Fr Michael Sinnott Is Alive: Sinn Fein

30 Oct

By J. P. Anderson:

It has emerged tonight that kidnapped Irish priest Fr Michael Sinnott is alive and has received medical treatment.

Senior Sinn Féin figure Gerry Kelly and former Downing St chief of staff Jonathan Powell have been involved in behind-the-scenes talks in an attempt to secure the 79-year-old priest’s release.

Last night Stormont junior minister Gerry Kelly told The Irish Times he had been contacted by a relative of another priest working in the Philippines about Fr Sinnott.

“I understand that Fr Sinnott is both safe and alive and I also understand that he has got his medicine for his heart condition,” said Mr Kelly.

He added that Father Sinnott’s location had been identified.

He said: “The good news is that they believe he is in Lanao Del Norte. The kidnappers are asking for ‘board and lodgings’ – a euphemism for a ransom.”

Mr Kelly said that both separatists and government forces are searching for Fr Sinnott, who may be held by a criminal gang.

“They have pulled out all the stops to get his release. Vigils are being held by clergy across the Philippines for his release. Pressure is building up,” he added.

Fr Sinnott was abducted from his compound on October 11th by six gunmen who forced their way into the Columban House in Pagadian City in Zamboanga Del Sur province, 890km south of Manila.

Fears have risen that the missionary was in a critical condition due to dysentery, malnutrition and the absence of the medicine he needs following open-heart surgery four years ago.

Dublin: Two ‘Bent Cops’ Under Criminal Investigation For Helping City’s Organised Crime Gangs: UPDATED

30 Oct

By J. P. Anderson:

GARDA COMMISSIONER Fachtna Murphy has confirmed a small number of gardaí are being investigated for allegedly assisting organised gangs, and said any Garda member found guilty would be immediately dealt with.

Mr Murphy said many organisations had rogue elements, but insisted these would not be tolerated within the Garda force.

“In an organisation the size of An Garda Síochána, with 14,600 members, there will always be issues. But we will deal firmly with those issues. And we also have the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to deal with them.”

Mr Murphy was replying to media questions at the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, about two cases in Dublin in which two members of the force are alleged to have passed information to organised crime gangs.

One of the gangs, one of the biggest in the State, operates in north and west Dublin, where it controls a very large and lucrative drugs patch. It is suspected of a number of gangland murders and a string of armed robberies.

It is alleged that information about the Garda investigation of the gang was passed to it by a member of the force who is now under investigation. A second, unrelated investigation is being conducted elsewhere in the city.

Mr Murphy did not comment on the cases in detail but confirmed “a recent issue” had arisen. He said it was being investigated by gardaí and by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

“The values I stand for are honesty, accountability, respect and professionalism. That’s what I want out of the members of An Garda Síochána. Anybody who steps outside those values will be dealt with.”

Mr Murphy and Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said they did not believe dissatisfaction in the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) over mooted pay cuts would result in Blue Flu-style industrial action. The phrase “Blue Flu” was coined in 1997 when most gardaí rang in sick on the same day as part of a row over pay.

Mr Ahern said the issue of “industrial strife” was of concern in the context of the Government’s planned corrective economic measures in the forthcoming budget.

However, he said the Garda had a “great reputation” among the public and he did not believe they would do anything to tarnish that.

“They understand that the type of Blue Flu that happened previously did cause certain upturn or backlash from the people. So I think they would have to be very careful.” Mr Ahern said he had no indication the Garda associations were planning to encourage members into unlawful actions. All members of the force swear an oath to serve the country, meaning they are banned from striking.

In recent weeks, Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea told PDforra, the group representing some Defence Forces personnel, that the ban on taking industrial action precluded it from being involved in the 24-7 Frontline Alliance. PDforra was told to withdraw from the alliance, and did so.

When asked yesterday why he had not told AGSI and the GRA to leave the alliance, Mr Ahern said he had no issue with the groups engaging in lawful protests and that he was not privy as to why Mr O’Dea insisted PDforra withdraw.

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UPDATE:

A Finglas-based garda and his girlfriend were arrested recently on suspicion of selling intelligence to members of a criminal gang. The intelligence was obtained illegally from the Garda communication computer system, Pulse.

The garda, in his 40s, allegedly sold intelligence to Finglas criminals about their enemies, including addresses where they would hide out on occasion, the extent of criminality they were involved in, their associates and other general garda intelligence collated on Finglas gangs following extensive surveillance.

It is an offence under section 62 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 for officers to be involved in the "unauthorised release of data" collated by gardaí.

It is understood at least one other member of the Garda Síochána, based in west Dublin, is also under investigation and that the duo were using unsuspecting colleagues to access sensitive information including details of the movement of Garda vehicles engaged in keeping criminal gangs under surveillance.

Yesterday Commissioner Murphy said there would always be "issues" in an organisation the size of the Garda Síochána, "but we will deal firmly with those issues and indeed we have the Garda Ombudsman Commission to deal with them".